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Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Reconsidering Charles Dickens

     After Charles Dickens died in 1870, his reputation--though not his popularity--dipped. Yes, he was a supreme entertainer, but the author of "A Christmas Carol" and "A Tale of Two Cities" couldn't really be considered a serious writer in a world of Hardy and Meredith and Conrad and James. And other popular writers had come along and won large readerships--Conan Doyle, Rider Haggard and, of course, Kipling, the most talented of them all, whose reputation has fluctuated even more that Dickens's, given his fatal identification with imperialism. 

     But, as these things happen, before the end of the century the tide had begun to turn. A reconsideration of Dickens by the impressive novelist and critic George Glassing, published in 1898, made large claims for his art, and then, in 1906, the prodigious young G.K. Chesterson (long before his "Father Brown" mysteries made him, too, a popular writer) published a reconsideration of [Dickens] with such wit, sympathy and sheer brilliance that Dickens was back in play as a major literary force. Meanwhile, of course, the world had gone on reading him, happily ignorant that he was a has-been.

Robert Gottlieb, "Dickensworld," The New York Times Book Review, November 8, 2021

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